It’s too easy to overlook
a noise amid noise.
But when there’s nothing to report, which is most of the time, UDOT fills the vacancy with messages that are more on the fun than useful side. I think that’s unwise. I think so because of a phenomenon known as inattentional or perceptual blindness, essentially defined as missing what’s in front of you because your attention is directed elsewhere.
Inattentional blindness is something we all experience—as a rule, not an exception. Recall the time you tripped over a chair because you were being careful not to step on the cat, the time you couldn’t locate a book in plain sight because it had a blue cover and you were looking for a red one, the time you couldn’t find the mayo because it was in the fridge on the left and you were sure it was on the right, or the time you had to ask someone to repeat what they’d just said because you thought you could check Facebook and listen at the same time. We humans are hard-pressed to focus on more than one thing at a time.
Keeping message boards constantly alight makes them unexceptional, easy to tune out as part of the background. Messages like “Keep calm and drive on” only compound the problem by training drivers not to expect anything important should they bother to look, ironically undermining the boards’ real purpose. And when non-essential messages do draw attention, they draw it away from the road. Much can happen in 205 feet, which is the distance you’ll travel at 70 miles per hour in the two seconds it takes you to read a message. Assuming, that is, you were going only 70, and you really can look up, read, and assimilate the message in two seconds. I wouldn’t bet on either.
Suggested solution? Leave the signs dark when there’s nothing to report. A usually-dark sign that springs suddenly to life is more likely to grab attention than one that’s always on and usually has nothing of importance to say.